Stay Focused, Stay Niche

March 13, 2015

Lemon Lily Organic Tea

With beautiful outlooks, pleasant smells and creative tea blends, Lemon Lily Organic Tea captivates its customers with a superior tea tasting experience. This certified organic loose-leaf tea brand was launched online in 2013 and soon after became a tea supplier to Toronto-based independent cafes. A year later, in October 2014, Lemon Lily’s first physical tea store and café was established in Cabbagetown/Regent Park area in Toronto.

Investing in a product-oriented business and a physical store is costly. Getting the organic certifications is time-consuming and the process must repeat yearly. Inventing different tea blends requires expert knowledge, exquisite taste, and time. Few people take the trouble. Nevertheless, Jason Johnston – the owner of Lemon Lily – insists on providing high-quality certified organic tea with unique blends as his niche for the market. Jason took the right bet. The business of Lemon Lily has grown at an exponential rate within two years.

Stay focused and create your niche

Starting from selling sport cards in his parents’ garage as a 12-year-old to building businesses in different sectors such as clothing and publishing, Jason has accumulated valuable experience establishing small start-ups. He learned the key to success is to stay focused and be the niche in the business.

“You need to have a unique offering, something that differentiates yourself from all the competition,” Jason shares his insight. He decided to develop a certified organic tea brand amongst fierce competition. He had (and has) a solid understanding of the impact he wants to make, the gap between his dream and the existing market he wants to fill, and the ideal customer to target.

He wants to provide a healthier drink and promote health awareness to people. But there’s more to running a business. Jason is primarily a tea sommelier, finds reliable sources of tea, and puts his heart into making new tea blends. Lemon Lily attracts both the health-conscious and the niche-hunting customers with blends like the playful “Chocolate Monkey” and the romantic “A Night In Paris”.

Jason is very clear about what he is doing and plans well. “As a small business, you need to stay close to your initial plans, try not to deviate too much, because you can wear yourself out pretty quickly”.

Lemon Lily Organic Tea

Customers tell you what you need to change

The business focus and the necessary business changes are different concepts. What requires change is the operational side of things if they fall outside the business focus. In Lemon Lily’s case, its focus remains firm at providing healthier drinks and better tea tasting experience to more people.

Jason’s recent decision to switch the operational focus from online tea sales to a physical store is the perfect example. “I realized that there is so much competition for each dollar in the online market and I did not see the attraction in our products to be standalone in that competition.” He turned to do more wholesale and realized that having tangible products out there on the shelves allows Lemon Lily to gain more market share. Meanwhile, he received lots of customer feedback when attending events. Customers expressed the desire to see the tea product: to smell it, and to taste it before buying. He smiles, “Then, we realized that our biggest obstacle was something that we hadn’t taken into account: the senses of our customers. We have such sense-stimulating products. This lead to our decision to own our own physical store.”

Be your own leader

“Startups are probably one of the most complicating and time-involved things that you can do.” You have to know yourself well to make such a commitment. Be your own leader and get things done, step-by-step – celebrating successes along the way.

Entrepreneurs also have to go in with their eyes open.“You have to know that it is more than just a good idea, [that you have] the ability and persistence to make things work. Meanwhile, make sure that you have the financial and emotional backing behind you to do it.” Jason remarks.

I still have a lot to learn

“I think everyone should have mentors in just about every aspect of our lives,” Jason declares. He is lucky to have a father who mentors him in business operation and management and a mother who guides him into the creative and human side of things. “It is also good to have peer mentors, such as people in non-competing industries. Having feedback from someone else is vital to the success of everyone, at work or at start-ups.”

Jason is very keen to observe what his parents or people around him do and build his skills on that. “As much as I feel that I know, I learn every single day.” He starts laughing and says, “What I learn more than anything else is that I still have a lot to learn!“

Lemon Lily wants more

To promote a healthier drink and lifestyle, Jason wants to increase the exposure of Lemon Lily Organic Tea. “I want to see Lemon Lily in some major high-end grocers, places that focus more on health foods and products. We want to remain a quality brand and be accessible for everybody. Part of it is to be put in the right places where the health conscious people shop. “ Jason expresses his ambition.

Lemon Lily owes its success to Jason’s persistence in staying focused and keeping the niche in the market. For anyone who would like to explore Lemon Lily more, check its website, or visit their social media channels: Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Or simply drop by its new cozy tea store and café at 410 Dundas East Street and let Jason take you onto a marvelous organic tea tour!


Ting-Yu Wei

Ting-Yu Wei is Kaleidoscope’s Business Resource Writer. She lights up whenever she hears a good idea and loves to get people connected for idea development. Her roles as a sales representative, a lecturer in developing countries, along with an Schulich MBA allow her to engage in social enterprise development, impact investing and youth entrepreneurship training. Find Ting-Yu on LinkedIn.